(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - Protests in Turkey are likely to continue to escalate unless authorities engage in meaningful discussions with activists, Amnesty International said after riot police this morning once again used tear gas and water cannons against peaceful protesters in Istanbul’s Taksim Square and Gezi Park.
The further police action against demonstrators contradicted statements by the Governor of Istanbul this morning that they would not intervene in the park.
Activists have been protesting against the construction of a shopping center in Gezi Park adjacent to the square, which is one of downtown Istanbul's last green spaces.
In a statement to media, Istanbul's Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu said the intervention in Taksim Square was being carried out to remove banners from the Atatürk statue and the Atatürk Culture Center on the square, noting that the police would not intervene in Gezi Park.
"The protests in Taksim Square and Gezi Park have been entirely peaceful and have a right to continue," said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International's Turkey researcher who is currently in Istanbul. "Intervention by the authorities should only be carried out for legitimate reasons - wanting to have a few banners taken down is, simply, not adequate justification."
"When we met with the Governor this afternoon, he continued to insist that the police were using appropriate force in pursuit of legitimate goals. Neither of these claims is consistent with the reality on the ground," Gardner continued.
Amnesty International has also learned that 72 lawyers were arrested at about 12 noon local time as they gathered to make a statement about the situation in Gezi Park at the Çaðlayan Courthouse. They were initially held at the courthouse and then subsequently taken to Vatan Street police station.
Since protests began in Istanbul and across Turkey about two weeks ago, thousands of peaceful protesters have been reported injured as a result of police interventions. Up to three people have reportedly died in the course of the protests: one as a result of excessive use of force and two, including one police officer, following accidents.
The Istanbul Medical Association revealed that there were more casualties as a result of today's police assault on protesters. These included nine people injured by plastic bullets, several broken limbs, a number of cases of head and chest trauma and one fractured skull.
The Turkish authorities, so far, have failed to investigate any of the reports of abuse and no one has been brought to justice.
"Instead of continuing to repress peaceful activists, the Turkish authorities should start to look at the actions of their own police and bring to justice those responsible for the shocking abuse we have seen over the past two weeks," Gardner said.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.